General SF/Fantasy

My Journey Through Fandom

My journey into fandom began in 1987 when I was in high school (you can stop cringing now) and a friend of mine convinced me to watch the new Star Trek. I did and it was all right but I never went so far as to attend a Star Trek convention or seek out other fans of the show. I certainly was not about to pay money to go see the actors of some show I watched once a week. That, and as a high school sophmore, Iím certain my parents were not about to let me run loose with total strangers. I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation faithfully for its entire run. I went to the Star Trek movies, even the horrible Star Trek V but had no desire to do much beyond that.

Time passes. I go to college and one night, while stuck at a friendís apartment, I was introduced to Highlander <cue the trumpet fanfare> and the absolutely, fall on the floor, drop dead gorgeous Adrian Paul, where have YOU been hiding? The show was good. Better than The Next Generation. What a neat idea. Immortals hiding amongst the common folk, fighting with swords, the whole concept appealed to me imensely. Watching the tv show prompted a trip to the video store to rent the movie, Sean Connery as an Egyptian, okay. Iíve seen the original movie at least 9 times probably more. Letís not get into the other ones right now, okay?

Fast forward five months (January of 1995) when the same friend who got me started on Highlander, drags me into the computer lab on campus and tells me "You pay twelve bucks a month for something that you never use", (e-mail).

It was all down hill after that. I discovered a mailing list called Highla-l, still run by the wonderful Debbie Douglas, intrepid list owner making do with a whip and a chair <her sig. file> and that discovery began my immersion into fandom. I still havenít completely emerged. I discovered a whole new world. And then came fan-fic and the conventions! Seven years later, my journey through fandom has taken me through seven Highlander conventions, four Media West conventions, four Revel Cons, three trips to Denver, two trips to San Francisco, two trips to Baltimore and a trip to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

My journey has also introduced me to friends all over the country and the world. Paolina in Bolivia, Ellen in Toronto, Julie in Virginia and Mary in Washington State. I have a completely different view of the world now then I would have had, had I not gone to my first con or read even a bit of fan fic. Where will my journey take me next? Iím not sure. Probably Media West , I donít know. And that my friends, is half of the fun of fandom. You just donít know whatís going to pop up next.

The Merril Collection

In 1970, Judith Merril donated her science fiction collection to the Toronto Public Library, on the condition that it was kept as a collection. By 1997, the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation, and Fantasy has grown to be the largest single collection of science fiction and fantasy that is maintained by a public library in North America, with over 32,000 books and 25,000 periodicals of science fiction, fantasy, and related information.

The Merril Collection's charter is to collect one copy of everything related to the science fiction and fantasy genres in Canada, Great Britain, and the US. If a book has been published, chances are that the Merril Collection has a copy. The library staff is very well-informed on the genres and materials, and according to Collection Head Lorna Toolis, a science fiction or fantasy fan.

Merrill Collection AddressThe reference collection is used by scholars, students, and general readers of science fiction and fantasy. The Collection includes monographs, short stories collections (completely indexed!), periodicals, fanzines, and is branching into videos, graphic novels, role-playing games, and art. The Collection includes complete sets of material from specialty publishers such as Arkham House, Cheap Street, and Gnome Press, as well as complete collections of some pulp magazines, including Galaxy, If, Unknown, Omni, and PulpHouse, among others. Even though the collection is non-circulating, a small selection of paperbacks can be checked out from the Toronto Public Library. The materials are held in closed stacks; if you want to read a book, a library staff member must get it for you, and you can only read it in the library. Certain fragile magazines and books have restrictions on reading and photocopying because of their condition.

The Merril Collection is funded as a special branch of the Toronto Public Library. Additional monies are collected from sales of t-shirts, tote bags, mugs, memberships to the Friends of the Merril Collection, and sales of the Friends newsletter, Sol Rising. The Friends of the Merril Collection host readings and events by such authors as John Clute, and Guy Gavrial Kay. While the Collection does accept donations, items must be appraised first. Duplicate items, as well as those that cannot be used by the Collection, are sold in Library Book sales.

The Merril Collection is not yet online; according to Lorna Toolis, that is their next major project. However, if you have questions regarding the collection, or a book you heard of but don't know if it exists, or a short story by an author that you can't find anywhere, or other questions, contact them.

In Dull TV Days, Favorites Take Wing Online

On TV this summer, as it does every long, trying season of reruns, time is standing still. Impatient channel surfing doesn't help. Glimpses of fall premieres are only maddening. Months will go by before fans know what happens in the lives -- and deaths -- of characters in their favorite prime-time dramas.

But on the Internet, where nothing ever stands still, prime time's cliffhangers have long since been resolved in an emerging electronic genre known as "fan fiction" that has spawned hundreds of Web sites and Internet discussion groups.

In this season of their recurring discontent, fans of TV shows from the critically acclaimed drama "E.R." to the campy "Xena: Warrior Princess" have already moved on, coloring cyberspace with back stories, subplots and character arcs that veer gleefully astray from their creators' more predictable plans.

Unfettered by formula or the strictures of internal consistency, fan fiction traces its roots to the photocopied pamphlets passed around in the 1970s by the notoriously cultish "Star Trek" devotees at conventions and through the mail.

But the recent outpouring of digitized fan scribbling -- one "X-Files" Web archive has accumulated 6,000 stories in its 18 months of existence -- seems to signal the genesis of a cultural movement with a much broader appeal.

"There are more fans out there now," said Betsy Vera, a secretary in Ann Arbor, Mich., who began reading fanzines in the early 1980s but now collects addresses for fan-fiction Web sites and e-mail lists -- about 800 so far, which she has helpfully organized by subject matter.

"You're getting a lot of the people who wouldn't be caught dead near a convention," Ms. Vera said. "It's different if you do it on the Web."

As much a template for communication as it is a creative outlet for excess enthusiasm, online fan fiction is a new testament to TV's role as a common language in a society becoming both more global and more fragmented. It also reflects the power of the Internet as a grass-roots publishing platform, making every viewer a potential contributor.

The mixture of the two, some media theorists say, may presage an information-age return to the folk tradition of participatory storytelling, which in earlier times gave rise to the "Iliad" and the legend of King Arthur. Or at least it may make watching TV more fun.

"If you go back, the key stories we told ourselves were stories that were important to everyone and belonged to everyone," said Henry Jenkins, director of media studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Fan fiction is a way of the culture repairing the damage done in a system where contemporary myths are owned by corporations instead of owned by the folk."

Conceiving new plot twists for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" may not have quite the same effect on Western culture as, say, inserting a "wine dark sea" flourish into an epic poem. But for Jill Kirby, "good fanfic is just as good as any episode of the TV show, and often better."

Ms. Kirby, 30, is a bank manager in Chicago who administers one of three Web sites devoted to fiction about "Buffy," which features a teen-age girl battling the forces of darkness. Fans have written more than 100 stories based on the show, a 10-to-1 ratio to the number of episodes that have been broadcast.

Special Agent Fox Mulder of "The X-Files," an apparent suicide at the end of last season, is variously dead, alive or an alien hybrid, depending on which Web site you visit.

Dr. Daniel Nyland of "Chicago Hope" stands accused of negligence as the new TV season approaches. But on the Web, he has had his good name restored -- with the aid of Monica, a character from a different series, "Touched by an Angel."

So far, the fan-fiction phenomenon has unfolded with the forbearance of the television industry. While several studios have threatened to press charges against people who set up Web fan-club sites that use pirated pictures and trademarked logos, the networks have allowed fiction sites to proliferate in peace.

"As long as somebody's not out there trying to make money with it, I don't think anybody wants to shut them down," said a spokesman for 20th Century Fox, which produces "The X-Files."

"The thing that scares all of us is that NBC is going to call us up and say 'Cease and desist,"' said a writer in New York City who asked to be identified only by her nom de Net, Kitt Montague.

Ms. Montague taught herself a Web-programming language so she could publish her five novel-length stories based on the police drama "Law and Order" on her home page earlier this year. One popular 10-part story brings Ben Stone, a character who left the show in 1994, face to face with his replacement, Jack McCoy: "He was about Ben's age, perhaps a year or two older, lean, with a rakish head of salty gray hair and heavy eyebrows, but he was handsome in the way some large birds are: stately and angular."

Standard fan-fiction form nods to copyright law by acknowledging up front that others own the characters. But several television producers, worried about their own potential liabilities, said they avoided reading fan fiction -- in the same way they ignore unsolicited scripts -- so that an amateur writer could not later contend that a story was stolen.

The professionals who do acknowledge sneaking an occasional online peek evince a faint hostility toward the Internet scribes.

"I've seen some fan fiction from certain female Internet users that seems to be elaborate fantasies involving them and one of the characters," said Rene Balcer, executive producer and head writer for "Law and Order."

The vast majority of fan-fiction writers are women, and most are younger than 40.

Ken Topolsky, executive producer of "Party of Five," likes to get fan feedback in Internet chat rooms but draws the line at listening to story ideas. "If they want to write an episode," Topolsky said, "what they should do is write an episode, request a release and send it in."

But for most fan writers, a long-shot hope of creating a script for actual broadcast is not the point.

"I can tell you what drives me to write it -- absolutely guaranteed audience," said Nina Smith, 36, of Yonkers, N.Y. "I've got a mailbox with well over 200 pieces of fan mail."

Ms. Smith, an unpublished author of three novels, has made a name for herself in one of fan fiction's more difficult genres: the crossover, in which some or all of TV land exists in one surreal place.

Plucking characters from "The X-Files," "E.R." and "Chicago Hope," Ms. Smith devised a crime, set in Chicago, that was medical in nature with paranormal overtones. The widely circulated result, "A Dark Smear in the Sky," has even been translated into French by appreciative readers. Its sequel, "Black Sail," has also won acclaim.

"Most people think of television as mindless consumption, and I like the fact that there are people turning around and using it as a springboard for all sorts of personal creativity," Ms. Smith said.

It is in crossovers and other fan-generated genres like "slash" -- in which the sexual orientation of all the main characters has been switched (the police officers from "Starsky & Hutch" are a favorite topic here, as are Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock from "Star Trek") -- that fan fiction begins to depart markedly from its source material.

The creative chaos has given rise to terms like "canon" to distinguish events that were actually portrayed on TV, as opposed to those that transpire only within the alternate universe of electronic fan fiction.

"If you read enough," posted one reader to a fan-fiction discussion group, "they blend."

Consider the case of Sheryl Martin, a security guard in Toronto. She created a character named Jackie St. George who accompanies the FBI agents Mulder and Scully in her "X-Files" fiction.

"I get e-mail saying, 'Which show was she on?"' Ms. Martin said of Jackie, about whom she has written some 200 stories. "That to me is the ultimate flattery."

Well, maybe the ultimate flattery was the man who fell in love with the online Jackie St. George but settled for becoming engaged to the real-life Ms. Martin.

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